Patriots

Giardi: Time for Gilmore to earn his keep . . . now

Giardi: Time for Gilmore to earn his keep . . . now

TAMPA, Fla. -- As we were kicking around the idea of the Patriots possibly running the table and finishing 19-0 this spring and summer, we pointed to a number of positions or groupings being the best in the league or at least in the conversation.

Quarterback? Check. Wide receiver? Check. Tight end? Check. Secondary? Check.

The quarterback, a fellow by the name of Tom Brady, has lived up to that expectation. He’s on pace for 5,700 yards, 40 touchdowns and no interceptions. That doesn’t suck. The wide receiver spot took a hit when Julian Edelman tore his ACL and Malcolm Mitchell re-injured his chronically bad knee and landed on IR (with the chance to return), but points and big plays haven’t been a problem from the position. Rob Gronkowski enters Thursday’s game with Tampa Bay dealing with a quad issue that may limit him, but in each of the last three weeks, he’s been a beast, looking very much like the player who’s dominated the league when he’s been healthy.

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That leaves the secondary . . . 

In no way, shape or form should the defensive backfield look as awful as it has. There’s loads of experience there, not just in this league, but in this system. They return nine defensive backs who played on last year's Super Bowl-winning team: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Pat Chung, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner and Brandon King. Yes, the latter duo is, and has been, special teams only, but they attend meetings, have to know coverages and checks just like the guys that get the lion share of the snaps.

That brings us the one newcomer in the room and on the field: Stephon Gilmore. His resume is impressive. He went to the Pro Bowl a season ago with the Bills, intercepting five passes, and he was durable enough to play in all but a dozen games over his first five years in the league.

Gilmore has a first-round pedigree, coming into the league back in 2012 as the 10th overall pick. His collegiate battles at South Carolina with another high pick, Alshon Jeffrey, are legendary. His old ball coach, Steve Spurrier, said it was Gilmore’s commitment to South Carolina as the state’s Mr. Football that let the program take off, later influencing fellow Mr. Footballs -- Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Lattimore -- to stay in state. Gilmore started every game in college, even playing some quarterback in the “WildCock” offense. He left school with a 3.2 GPA. He’s not just some guy with fast feet. He has the brains to process all of it, on both sides of the ball.

Until his arrival in Foxboro, that is.

Through four games, Gilmore is the 71st-rated cornerback on the analytic website Pro Football Focus. That’s generous. The site doesn’t take into account the miscommunications that have plagued the Pats veteran secondary, and the fact that Gilmore has been in the middle of far too many of those mental errors. I’ve outlined those mistakes on Monday Night Patriots and on my Twitter timeline.

Oh sure, he’s not the only one. Chung has been guilty, and seen his playing time decrease because of it. McCourty hasn’t played to his level. Butler got his playing time reduced in Week 2 versus New Orleans. Rowe was completely lost Sunday before re-injuring his groin.

But Gilmore sticks out like a sore thumb that just got smashed by a hammer. He is the X factor, replacing the mentally sound Logan Ryan this season. Ryan’s a player that doesn’t have Gilmore’s physical gifts but was a terrific communicator and sound tackler. Gilmore is lacking in both areas so far.

That’s why you have to believe the constant harping on communication issues by the leaders of that secondary, McCourty and Harmon, are directed at Gilmore first and foremost. As if they’re telling us it’s him but just not saying his name. Why else would the coaching staff almost immediately strip down the coverages and checks after Week 1? Why else would Harmon say “it can’t get no simpler than it is” after Sunday’s failures versus Carolina? That McCourty --- always measured, regardless of the scenario -- was emotional after the loss, and called it embarrassing? McCourty didn’t just forget how to run the secondary, but appears distracted on the field at times, trying to get Gilmore in the right place or in the right call. Ditto for Harmon. Chung is one of the team’s smarter players. Suddenly he doesn’t know how to cover bunch formations?

No, the common denominator is Gilmore. Until he figures out that communication entails not only talking but listening, what should have been one of the best secondaries in football is going to continue to get gashed for big plays and the pressure, already building, will only get worse.

Ball’s in your court, No. 24, but it won’t stay there for long. Bill Belichick has never been afraid to make hard decisions -- he sat Gilmore down to begin the third quarter Sunday before Rowe’s injury forced him to go back to his free-agent prize -- and one can only imagine what lengths the coach will go to if the 27-year old Gilmore doesn’t figure it out and figure it out soon. 

Quinn hoping Falcons won't be focused on 28-3 this week

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Quinn hoping Falcons won't be focused on 28-3 this week

FOXBORO -- They say you can't live in the past. But for the Falcons, that may be easier said than done this week. 

“Well, for sure we’ve talked about it," Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said of Super Bowl LI. "The biggest thing we’ve said was you don’t get to go replay games. You don’t get to go replay the Super Bowl. We lost last week and we don’t get to go replay the Miami game. One of the sayings we have is, 'The only fight that matters is the one you’re in.' 

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"That is where our focus is, and even deeper than that, our focus is for us to play at our best. We’re not there yet. That is what we’re out chasing. We don’t want to go into the rematch world because we learned our lessons and you don’t get to apply them until you’re back in them again. If we keep looking back in the rear view, we’re not going to be where we want to be."

The reality is, though, Super Bowl LI and New England's 25-point comeback win is going to be part of Atlanta's preparations this week.

Both Bill Belichick and Dan Quinn have said at different points that they'll look at that game because the personnel on both sides is so similar. Though the teams aren't constructed exactly the same, and though the Falcons are operating under a new offensive coordinator, last season's finale still has value . . . as difficult as it may be for some to re-live it.

“It’s a big part [of the preparations], and here’s why," Quinn said. "When you face a team for a second time in less than a year, it’s almost like, I am not going to call it a division game, but you have more familiarity than when you don’t. You go back to look how they featured the players in their roles last year and go back to look at some of the roles for this year.

"The players also have some familiarity with one another. 'How to a guard this guy? I have to make sure my leverage is right when I tackle this player. When I am in press coverage this release worked, this one wasn’t as effective.' There’s definitely familiarity. We definitely looked back at that game, but also the games from this year, too. That is pretty normal operating procedure when we’re playing a team. We may go back a year or even two years if the coaching staff is the same to see if there’s some philosophical scheme and plays that they are really comfortable with."